Life Vest Rule: Keep Bureaucrats Out of Boats

We know the stats. Coast to coast, 700 or so people die in boating accidents every year, 500 from drowning. Of the fatalities, the vast majority aren't wearing life jackets.

You can make the case that lives could be saved if we all strapped on life jackets the moment we climbed aboard our boat or anyone else's. Plus, it would be good for the life vest business and it might even spur inventors to come up with something comfortable and snazzy.

Soon, we could be strapped in the seat belts of our cars and trucks on the way to the water and then quickly strap on boat vests. Maybe they could figure out some ground straps to wear walking from vehicle to vessel so that we don't float off into the cosmos or get knocked down by a dog.

The proposal we're speaking of (ridiculing, actually) was made by the U.S. Coast Guard, an institution we admire. (We herewith thank the Coast Guard once again for coming to our assistance one November night.) The Coast Guard also may want to require all boaters to take a safety course. The U.S. Department of Transportation is considering these ideas.

People who stop in this space often know that we aren't in the business of government-bashing. We often extol the need for tough regulations to keep developers from gobbling up everything green in Chesapeake Country, which they would do by the Fourth of July if given half a chance.

But when it comes to proposals like mandatory life vests, we're tired of government making rules to protect people from themselves.

We can hardly smoke anywhere, even if we wanted to. We barely can drink more than a beer or two unless we want to walk home. On Maryland highways, we have sobriety checkpoints that ought to be declared unconstitutional. Then we leave land for a little freedom on the Chesapeake, and what do we find but water cops looking for registrations and what-not.

We've heard people complain that they won't wear vests because it would interfere with the time-honored rite of tanning. Well, that argument won't travel too far in Washington because they'll tell you that you're no longer supposed to be in the sun.

This isn't to say that we oppose helmets for motorcyclists and regulations where life-threatening danger abounds. And with life vests, we don't object to a public service campaign, even one with ads that scares the daylights out of boaters.

If they want to cut down boating fatalities, authorities ought to train their sites on operators of jet-skis who, while disturbing the tranquillity and the sea grass, laugh at rules that prohibit them from riding near boats, piers or fixed objects. We've seen figures showing that more than half of boating accidents are caused by these "personal watercraft."

But don't just write a new rule for all boaters that will be tough to enforce. When the government goes too far, it promotes disrespect for all of its rules.

There are times when people ought to be left to get by on common sense. The wrong-headed life vest plan is a good example.

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VolumeVI Number 22
June 4-10, 1998
New Bay Times

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